S D Burman Was Someone Who Adjusted To Changing Times, Therein Lies His Greatness – Anirudha Bhattacharjee

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SD or Sachin Dev Burman, the man who gave Hindi film music its grammar is perhaps the most enigmatic figure in Indian cine history. As the young scion of the Tripura royal family, SD struck out into the world of cinema and popular music. The early years were difficult, professionally and personally. His unconventional choice of profession and marriage to a ‘commoner’ caused his family to ostracise him, and his formal training was not enough to stave off rejections. – This is what the cover of the book says whose foreword is by Pandit Hariprasad Chaurasia, introduction by Pandit Nayan Ghosh and begins with a family tree of The Prince Musician.
The authors make it sure that the readers are introduced to all those persons who made a difference in this musician’s life. From his Gurus to his wife to people who initiated his film career as well as those who played a part in bringing him out as a singer. Not to forget his genius son!! The entire book is full with trivia, minutest details of his work, his career, his unreleased songs, the work which went unnoticed and yet the book focuses on what it should be focussing – his music. That is where lies the skill of the authors. In the entire book which is full with stories, the authors have deftly managed to hold to the main subject. Hence the book comes out as a winner for music aficionados. By the time you finish reading the first section of the book – Karta, you understand the pains taken by the authors to bring out the authentic information about a person who remains with us only through his music since years. The language, the planning, the sections chosen are skilfully presented and only shows the proficiency of the authors. Of course the book also has its errata. Yet with all its flaws and errors S D Burman – The Prince Musician shines through its way.
The authors Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal have already proved themselves in the literary field with R D Burman – The Man, The Music (It won the 2011 National Film Award for Best Book on Cinema) and Gaata Rahe Mera Dil (Won the Book Award for Excellence in Writing on Cinema prize at the Jio MAMI Mumbai Film Festival)
TheSongPedia in conversation with one of its authors – Anirudha Bhattacharjee!!

Tell us about memories of your first association with music.

We were a musical family; almost everyone could sing. Debu da, one of my cousins, was a brilliant singer who unfortunately could never make it big as schizophrenia struck quite early in life – when he was in his early twenties, in 1981, the year he was the Gold medallist, Sangeet Praveen Course in Hindustani Classical from Chandigarh. He had the mijaaz of Kishore Kumar and the mobility of Manna Dey. And a lovely sonorous voice which could be a mix of Kishore Kumar and Debabrata Biswas. He was very fond of Pandit Jasraj. I’m yet to hear anyone like him… but as they say, Man proposes, God disposes.

I think I’ve been listening to music from the time I was a child. Have very strong memories of the late 1960s and the early 1970s. In most of my writings you will find a fondness expressed for songs of that period. Songs like Na tum bewafa ho, Sun munne mere, Aakhon aakhon mein hum tum, Koi jab tumhara hriday tod de (I am told by Hindi experts that the term Hriday cannot be used with todna, it is Dil which makes sense, but who cares..), Bhai battur, Woh hain zara khafa khafa, Chale ja chale ja chale ja jahan pyar miley, Mera pyar bhi tu hai, Tu kitni acchi hai,Nishidin nishidin (Bengali), Kon shey aalor swaopo niye (Bengali), etc.

I used to sing quite regularly. You know, small towns had the “mohalla” system, where there would be cultural events on some balcony or roof, and a crowd of 50 or 60 would assemble, including parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings, friends, etc. One of the items I did was singing in multiple voices. Must be around the time I was seven or eight. Started representing school from class V.

Who were your key influencers as far as music is concerned, in your early days or otherwise?

Difficult to pinpoint. Lata Mangeshkar, maybe, when I was a child, I mean I remember her songs most – of that period. Later, Kishore Kumar. Also Manna Dey and Bhupinder. And my cousin. Then some friends, who I loved / love to hear sing. When in college, I became a huge fan of Madan Mohan’s music, especially his songs for Lata. I remain a great votary of Salil Chowdhury too. Songs like “Aha rimjhim ke ye pyare pyare geet liye” sound like someone playing gleefully with notes. I find their (MM & SC) melodic notes out of the world. I am a big fan of Jaidev and Khayyam too. They are rather one-dimensional as compared to the more well known greats, but their music has a picturesque quality which I love.
And of course, the Burmans. In fact I think most of the composers during the period I know – late 1940s to the mid 1980s – were extremely good. I used to listen to almost anything and everything during that period, not only Hindi film music. Genres included pop, Hindustani classical, whatever I felt sounded good.

Tell us something about your books R D Burman – The Man The Music and S D Burman – The Prince Musician. How did you choose the subject? Were there any anxieties/excitement about it?

This was in college, when I started appreciating arrangement. There were many good instrumentalists in Kharagpur, and the more I listened to them, the idea of the role of instrumentalists in a song interested me. It was then I was hooked on to R D Burman.
I used to read a lot of music trivia and film stories from my childhood. In fact, from the age of 10, I used to follow, among others, film reviews in the Statesman, Film and music columns in The Illustrated weekly of India, Filmfare , the Bengali magazine Desh, JS, even Screen. Gradually, without me actually understanding it, I had formed an opinion on cinema and its music. And gained info which I found were pretty useful during quizzes later. Coming to quizzing, I was a regular at Film and Music quizzes from 1984. I still quiz. Not prolific as before, but when time permits and especially I feel that there could be some value add.

I used to also write on cinema & music. Started with writing quizzes for the Illustrated Weekly in 1986. You may recall that there was no internet then, and whatever info I had gathered was from my interest in the subject. And listening to the radio. But I had not thought in terms of writing a book or anything around the complete works of a composer. Then I got the Geet Kosh series in 1993, and it helped me immensely, especially in getting the names of films of songs I had forgotten. The first book on an Indian film music personality I read was Raju Bharatan’s book on Lata. That was early 1995. This sent me thinking, what if we (I had roped in some friends too) write a book on RD-SD-SC, composers whose work we had a working idea of. Nothing happened. I actually wrote a chapter during 1999-2000 when I was stationed at Mohali for some time. It was terribly written.

I met Balaji- my co-author and friend from JU days – after eight years in 2008, and decided, somewhat on the spur of the moment, that rather than just discuss music, it was time we did something which made sense. Balaji is an ardent fan of Hind films and music, and we, along with Amitava Chatterjee, currently Professor of Electrical Engg, JU, were the film & music quiz team to beat in the late 1980s.

The RD book followed. It was started in 2008 August. The first person we interviewed keeping the book in mind was Ramesh Iyer. (We had interviewed people before, like Bhanu Gupta, who I used to meet almost once every two months, mostly to discuss Pancham and guitar chords)

The manuscript was closed in a year. During the edit phase, which started late, almost six months after the submission of the ms, we took some more interviews which were incorporated. The last edit happened in October 2010.

SD was offered to us by the publisher. This came just after the National award happened to us.

Anxieties – Yes, one is always eager to know how the reader felt about the book(s). In that sense, we are always anxious.

Hindi film music and the artists associated with it is a vast subject. Researching about it, its authentication and compiling the information must have been a tedious job. What difficulties did you face and how did you deal with it?

For research, we have the usual approach. Meet people. Read books. Lots of them. See fims.. All of them. In fact, quite a chunk of my salary has gone into buying VCDs / DVDs and books. And do library work. Authentication is a major issue, as the Rashomon effect looms large and various personalities involved with a film or a song have their own versions of “What actually happened”. There are times when the version changes from time to time. We blame it on memory, as for them, it is akin to work. I do not blame them. Do we remember what we did in office a week before? On most occasions, we do not. At least I do not. Hence, in absence of corroboration, we try to use our own counsel. Especially look at timelines.

I am lucky to have friends who are both knowledgeable and are eager to help. Some of them you already know, hence, I am not mentioning here. I take care to acknowledge them in my books.

I would like to mention that all along, I have tried to avoid the internet for research or validation. I agree it is not a very smart thing to do, as the net is a medium where there is an abundance of information, and this could have helped me from making basic mistakes like film censor year or spellings of proper names or film locations. But I prefer to remain that way.

Having read all 3 books by you, I can say that it intrigues a music lover like me. The history, the genres and styles, the artists and their contributions. What made you write first on Pancham then Gaata Rahe and now SDB?

RD was on my mind, as I have mentioned before. The next two happened as per contract with Harper and Westland respectively. It was more by chance rather than design.

How do you balance the work between the 2 of you, taking into consideration you don’t stay in the same cities?

Our phone bills are generally high. Now, with whatsapp calls, things are slightly cheaper. We divide the work. From interviews to writing to buying books and seeing films. Else, it would have been very tough as we have day time jobs which actually fund our families, and expensive hobbies like writing books.

While writing the books, you must have had your share of discoveries, some first time informations or even myths busted – can you give a few examples?

Quite a few. For example, if you check the RD book, you’ll find that contrary to what has been propagated for decades, one song from Teesri Manzil had already been recorded before Pancham had to face the grill. Manohari Singh had mentioned this, rather surreptitiously. Some other musicians also seconded what MS said. In the SD book, you’ll find that all was not nice and cosy between SD and a few singers, especially one singer in particular. Check the net, you’ll find purported interviews by the singers praising SD to the skies. There are more, which can be discussed offline.

Another reason I am scared of the net. It is better not to have any information then to purposely spread false information just because you want to prove you know.

How different was it when you switched over from son (Pancham) to father (Karta) for the biography? Taking into consideration that they are the most talked about MDs and already several books are there in the market, what was your stand when you began writing?

I don’t remember any book on Pancham which was there when we wrote The Pancham Caravan, as it was originally called. Nerurkar’s anthology was there, but it was, as I have mentioned, an anthology and not an analytical endeavour. It helped us in corroborating many things, especially lyricists, but apart from that, our approach was radically different from anything which had been written before. At a subconscious level, maybe, there was the story of Citizen Kane which made us think of building the story from scratch, after the man has died, rather suddenly, that is. I had also heard of the Calcutta of the 1960s from many people in my family, and of a story my father told me about an evening at Firpos or probably Trincas, I am not sure. I used it in the book. Here, I needed to ratify as my father had told me the story in the 1980s and he was not there to corroborate when I was writing the book. Hence, I got in touch with someone who recalled that songs of a particular film were indeed played by musicians in the early 1960s. In the Park Street area in Calcutta.

The Pancham book was written layer by layer, but very fast. We were helped by the musicians, singers, and also filmmakers, barring maybe two or three. Even Dev Anand granted us an interview.

The basic difference between the RD book and the SD book was the depth of research we had to carry out for the second one. RD we already knew quite a lot. SD we needed to know much more than we actually knew, and it is here that Sachin Ganguly helped. We also used material from periodicals which could be relied upon, say for example, for the story of Guide and Filmfare awards, our source of information was mostly Filmfare, as that would absolve us of getting into anything controversial.

Regarding the other books on SD which were already there in the market before, I got in touch with HQ Chowdhury and discussed with him about the music which was there in Bangla Desh. He is a true blue fan, devoted to the cause of propagating the music of SD around the world. But our approach to the book was very different. It was more to do about Bombay than Calcutta. Also, we had the advantage of getting access to resources in India – timelines, launches, muhurats, trivia, things were are essential when you are writing a bio.

In terms of treatment, the RD and the SD books are very different. The RD book is more a work of passion. SD is more in the lines of a proper bio.

Taking music into consideration, do you think social networking sites and the digital world has made it reachable to the maximum music lovers? Do you think the sudden exposure bringing negative effects?

Surely networking and digitization has worked immensely in favour of getting music propagated to a much wider mass than it was ever before. What is worrying is fake news, which also gets propagated very fast. People here are gullible enough to swallow what is spoken on the radio, TV, or Live shows. And egoistical and righteous enough to stand by that. You must have read the Salil Chowdhury – Surbahar – Sitar story which was shamelessly put up by someone on the net , something which was even reproduced in the Ananda Bazar , and needless to say, on the radio / TV by an actor turned RJ who recounted the same in his own inimitable style. Or the morphed video of Devdas with Piya tose naina lage re in the. Or letters written by SD to Salil and vice versa which garnered 5 figure likes. Fake news is far more eye-catching and juicy, and is aimed exactly at an audience who would embrace gossip. Unfortunate, but true. There are times Facebook becomes Farcebook.

Few interesting stories/interesting anecdotes or even funny moments during your association (while writing the books) with the artists you would like to share in short?

Both SD and RD had an uncanny sense of humour. I suggest you check out the books perhaps?

How do you balance your life as an author, columnist and your everyday life? What do you do when you are not writing?

Day jobs. Which extend to late night as well at times. Sometimes 7 days a week. Apart from that, I love spending time with my family, watching comedies or epics – Bengali or Hollywood. Interestingly, I hardly see Hindi films, except the ones which make me laugh. There are times I sing, mostly when I tune my guitar or when I have a program ahead. I used to quiz a lot before, but now that has taken a backseat. I love watching football, calling up friends, and giving a lot of gyan.

In fact I write only when I am forced to!!

Amongst the list of works, which one did you enjoy the most? And why?

The RD book. It was written very fast, was dense and apart from the interviews, mandated very little additional research as we have been discussing most of the stuff from our college days. It was instinctive, to sum it up.

How has writing about music enriched your life? What motivates you to keep writing?

Very much. My connect with music was limited to singing, which had ended after college. The RD book helped me reconnect to many people across the globe. Also rekindled my interest in quizzing, learning the guitar, etc. In fact the books have helped us getting shows which are based on the narrative. I was very excited doing shows in Dubai, London and Singapore. And made many friends there.

In all your books the chapters have been titled quite differently from rest of the books in the market. It kind of captivates the reader in me and tempts me to read further. Tell us the secret behind those titles. How did you come to think upon those?

Oh, nothing great, just that two heads are better than one. Balaji has great sense for one liners. He can make the sentence interesting, like, ‘perhaps Guru Dutt was the missing brick in House number 44’.

According to you, what were the different/major turning points in HFM? In SDB era as well as RDB era.

Very difficult to say. And any answer might reek of nepotism, as you know there are people on social media who take pride in selective reading and vilification. Having said that, if we consider the 50s through to the late 70s, SJ with their easy to hum melodies in Barsaat and subsequently Awara helped in popularizing film music. Mind you, even Naushad created very hummable melodies in the late 40s and the early 50s, but SJ I feel had more variety. And better, rather more creative use of the orchestra. Salil Chowdhury’s style was unique; do not think there will be anybody like him ever. But film music abhors complexity, and furthermore, his brand of music was also for the mind, something which the average listener might find difficult to comprehend.

The 1960s saw changes in arrangement and more specifically in balancing of sounds. Here we had RD coming in with his idea of stylization. He inspired many. Including jazz freaks. He created a complex but clean sound. Till say the late 1960s, complex arrangements were not clutter-free. RD changed this norm.

SD was someone who adjusted to changing times and patterns very well. Therein lies his greatness.

Your future projects? Any particular artist you are keen on writing? Or is there Gaata Rahe Mera Dil -2 in the offing? Any message you would like to give to the music lovers and our readers.

Presently we are writing on something related to cinema. Not music.

Message to the readers – Please find time for family and friends!!!

Avid music lover and Dev Anand fan


  1. Pingback: Carnival of Blogs on Golden Era of Hindi Film Music : November, 2018 – The world is too small? or Is it?

  2. Naresh Mankad

    July 4, 2020 at 3:07 pm

    I hoped Bhattacharjee and Balaji would write an equally good book on Salil Chaudhary.

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